How To Set Off Quotes In An Essay

    An assigning editor's comments that a story needs some quotes is a complaint about inadequate reporting, not a cry for typographic relief. 
    When we put those little marks around words in a story, we are telling the reader that the words are special, that they deserve special attention. 
    Many of the rules that follow are based on the premise that quotes should be carefully selected to stand on their hind legs and sing. And because they deserve special attention, they deserve careful handling by reporters and editors. Given that premise, these rules prevail in this course, at most publications and for most good writing. 



    1. One man, one quote: Do not use more than one attribution for the same quote. 


    2. Long-winded quotes: When you break a long quote into separate paragraphs, put closing quote marks only on the last paragraph. 

Example:

    In “Atomic War or Peace,” Albert Einstein wrote: 
    “The release of atomic energy has not created anew problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one. 
    “One could say that it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively. As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. 
    “That is not an attempt to say when it will come,but only that it is sure to come. That was true before the atomic bomb was made. What has been changed is the destructiveness of war.”


     3. Pesky parentheses:Avoid* inserting parenthetical words and phrases in quotes. If a quote is not  understandable without parenthetical explanation, it probably should be a paraphrase rather than a direct quote. If a speaker has used a pronoun for a proper name, don't automatically remove the pronoun and insert the proper name in parentheses on the assumption that the reader is stupid. 

Example: 

    “(Bill) was having a bad day,” the professor said. 

    Give the reader a break. If, in the context of the story, the antecedent of the pronoun is clear, leave it. The insertion of parentheses in quotes should be the exception rather than the rule. 

*By the way, “avoid” is a nice way of my saying “Don't do it — ever!” If you find a need to put something in parentheses, it means that the writer hasn't set up the quote as well as it should. So, either:

A. Set up the quote in the precediing paragraph (by introducing the person or the issue that caused the used of the parenthetical word or words), or

B. Paraphrase the quote that requires the parenthetical insert.

Do one or the other, always!



    4. Say who's saying it —again: When moving from a partial quote to a complete quote from the same speaker, close the partial quote, start a new paragraph and re-attribute the complete quote: 

Example: 

    He described the huddle as “an American football ritual in which the players show their rear ends to a crowd before a play.”
    “After a successful play,” he said, “another ritual demands that the players pat one another on the rear end to demonstrate their boyish glee.” 

    Also note that because the partial quote in the first paragraph is not a complete sentence, it does not begin with a capital letter. 



    5. Quick “quote, unquote”: Don't overdo partial quotes. Partial quotes, as any quotes, should be special. If you run into too many of them, remove all but the “very special” ones — the ones that give special emphasis or are extremely strong. (See #7 below). 


    6. Always attribute a quote: Never assume that the reader makes the connection between an allusion to a source in one sentence and the quote that follows: 

Wrong: 
    Mortis has used the surgical procedure for more than a decade. 
     “I have experienced remarkable success with that simple technique.” 

    We refer to this as an “orphan quote.” Always get the attribution tag into the quoted sentence. 

Correct: 
    Mortis has used the surgical procedure for more than a decade. 
    “I have experienced remarkable success with that simple technique,” he said. 

 



    7. Deja vu all over again? Watch for stutter or parrot quotes, and be ready to eliminate them. Stutter quotes repeat the words or intent of an adjacent paraphrase: 

Example: 

    Smith has used the surgical procedure for more than a decade.
    “I have been using that procedure for more than 10 years,” he said. 



    8. Each to its own: In conversation or dialogue, place each speaker's quotes in separate paragraphs. Do not run two or more speakers' quotes into the same paragraph, no matter how short. 


    9. Q: No quotes on some quotes? A: Righto!: Quotation marks are not needed in lengthy question-and-answer formats so long as the questions and answers are clearly marked Q: and A. (See AP Stylebook). 


    10. A “quipu” for quotes?: Unfamiliar or coined words may be placed within quotation marks on first use, after (or before) which the coined word should be defined.(But this technique should be used only on rare occasions.) On subsequent references in the same story, don't use quote marks. 


    11. Quotes in quotes: For quotes within quotes, use single quote marks, both opening and closing, for the internal quote. If both quotes end together, you would end with a single quote mark and double quotes marks. 

Example: 

    He said, “The surgeon called it ‘just a simple technique.’” 


    12. In (period and comma); out (everything else, unless...): Periods and commas always go inside closing quotes. Other punctuation marks go inside if they apply only to the quoted matter, outside if the punctuation applies to the full sentence. 


    13. “Change quotes?” you ask. “Almost, uh, never,” he said: In this class and at The University Daily Kansan, quotes appear exactly as they are said (with some rare exceptions). The exceptions are simple: the “uhs” and “ers” we all use as pauses to gather our thoughts are deleted (otherwise, our stories would be filled with them. Besides, readers don't really hear them.). Also, there are those “glides” and the such, as with “gonna” for “going to” and “wanna” for “want to.” In those cases, we'd write “going to” or “want to” (unless you're writing in the vernacular, something addressed below).

What about writing in the vernacular — using slang and phrasing to reflect a person's personality, upbringing or geographic influences. For example, when writing about a cowboy, you might want to write “Pahd-nuh” instead of “partner.” That's OK, but be careful. Make sure you still treat the subjects with respect. But, if in doing so, the quotes inadvertantly reflect poorly on the speakers in any way, don't do it.

We've had incidents in the past (and I've observed them in other newspapers) in which the vernacular has been used with athletes, particularly African-American or Latin American athletes, and not with others in the same story. Also, the vernacular tends to show up in stories about lower-income groups (i.e., the homless or people living in the inner city). That, simply, is wrong. And in other cases, we'll fix the little gaffes by the advantaged, but not the disadvantaged (such as the homeless or people in inner-city neighborhoods).. That's wrong, too. We should treat everyone the same, every time, all the time.. Apply rules evenly and fairly.

And what about grammatical errors? Simple. If you've got a good quote but the person makes a grammatical error that you think needs to be fixed, you paraphrase. Period.

Now, at some publications, quotes are changed at times for grammar and usage to avoid errors that may be embarrassing to the source if they appeared in print. We don't do that. We paraphrase.

Speakers also use interjections when they pause that are not really part of what they're saying, and listeners ignore, such as “uh” (which we never include) and, often, “you know” (which we can often omit).

In any case, you, as an editor or a writer, should exercise extreme caution. The best advice, for this class and in the professional world, is to check with a supervising editor or the writer — in class, that's the instructor — before changing anything in a quote (other than an obvious typo and, even then, you should try to check with the writer to determine exactly what was left out or wrong).

Remember: It's always best to check with a supervisor before changing any quote for just about any reason. Get a second opinion -- always!

If you'd like more, take a gander at the letter I wrote to Miriam Pepper of The Kansas City Star in reponse to its policy of changing quotes and her (feeble, in my view) support of it.



    14. Said doesn't always mean quotes: Just because you see the word “said” doesn't necessarily mean the material to which it is attached is a direct quote — even if what's being expressed is an opinion. 

Examples: 

    He said America was the most beautiful country in the world.

Or:

    America is the most beautiful country in the world, he said.

Those examples merely paraphrase what the person actually said. This may seem silly, but I can't tell you the number of times I have students change paraphrases into direct quotes simply because the word “said” is in a sentence. If you don't see any quote marks in the sentence, don't put 'em there. If you think in your heart of hearts that it might be a quote, but the writer just forgot to put in the quote marks, don't put 'em there unless you check with the writer or the source.



    15. One last note on quotes (and one of Professor Gibson’s pet peeves, even though it's not listed on the Prof's Pet Peeves page): 

    Always make sure the reader is clear about who's doing the talking in a quote. 

Example: 

    “…South American economy,” Clinton said. 
    The president also said he was looking forward to the conference in Brazil because of the enormous economic implications for the United States. 
    “The American economy will only benefit from relaxed import-export requirements,” James Williamson, a General Motors representative, said. “We believe we can increase our business in most of South America if the president's trip is a success.” 

    The reader would have every reason to believe that President Clinton was saying “The American economy . . .” until, of course,the reader gets to the name of the General Motors representative.” 
    That's unfair to the reader. It's sloppy writing and editing. Don't do it. Period. Introduce a new speaker before heading into a quote. 

Example: 

     …for the United States. 
     James Williamson, a General Motors representative, agreed. 
     “The American economy …” 

    It's that easy. 

Deciding on the location of footnotes or references in the text (Readability)

An awkwardly placed footnote or reference obstructs the flow of your paper. The non- binding guidelines below are intended to maximize your paper's readability. They are optional, so use your own judgment as to whether to follow them or not. Most likely, your decision will vary from case to case.

Note: In the examples below, we use MLA-style parenthetical in-text references. However, the same recommendations hold true for Chicago-style footnotes.

Optional Rule # 1

As a rule, place footnotes or references at the end of sentences. Avoid placing them in the middle of sentences if possible.

Avoid:

The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" (Chang 5) has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars.

Preferable:

The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars (Chang 5).

Optional Rule # 2:

If, in one paragraph, you list multiple quotes from the same page of a source, there is no need to cite that source anew each time. Use just one reference instead, placed after the last of your quotes (or perhaps at the end of the paragraph) to sum up the shared source of all your quotes.

Avoid:

The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars (Chang 5). Chinese-American scholar Iris Chang argues that "the Rape of Nanking represents one of the worst instances of mass extermination" ever (Chang 5). In fact, she notes, "the death toll of Nanking-one Chinese city alone-exceeds the number of civilian casualties of some European countries for the entire war (Chang 5).

Preferable:

The claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages" has been a source of disagreement between Western and Japanese scholars. Chinese-American scholar Iris Chang argues that "the Rape of Nanking represents one of the worst instances of mass extermination" ever. In fact, she notes, "the death toll of Nanking-one Chinese city alone-exceeds the number of civilian casualties of some European countries for the entire war (Chang 5).

Optional Rule # 3:

Even if multiple quotes from one source are not from the same exact page, as above, you can still summarize them in one reference placed after the last of your quotes or at the end of the paragraph. In this case, the individual page numbers cited are separated by commas, in both MLA and Chicago.

Example:

Some Western historians claim that "the Rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages." Iris Chang, for example, describes "Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river (which had turned red with blood), ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains" (Chang 5, 46).

Note: when summarizing multiple quotes from the same source in one reference, the order of the page numbers listed in the reference reflects the order in which the quotes are listed in your text. The above reference (Chang 5, 46) indicates that the first-cited quote is from p. 5, while the second is from p. 46.

Optional Rule # 4

Even if a paragraph lists quotes from more than one source, you can still summarize them into one reference placed after the last quote or at the end of the paragraph. In this case, separate the different authors listed in your reference by a semicolon, in both MLA and Chicago.

Example:

Writing on the Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang describes "Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river (which had turned red with blood), ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains." Japanese scholars, however, dispute this version of events, suggesting that Chang describes "'mountains of dead bodies' that no one saw" (Chang 46; Masaaki Ch. 4).

Note: The order in which the citations are listed in the reference reflects the order in which the quotes themselves are listed in the text. The above reference (Chang 46; Masaaki Ch. 4) indicates that the first quote is from Chang, p. 46; followed by a quote from Masaaki (a website), Chapter Four.

Final Note: Don't go overboard when summarizing multiple sources in one reference. Excessively lengthy references can become confusing to your reader. MLA recommends listing no more than three sources, maximum, in any one reference. As ever, use your own judgment. It's your paper, you decide; and don't worry if your decisions vary from case to case. The most important thing is that the source of each of your quotes is clearly identified in your references, and that the placement of your references does not obstruct the flow of your paper.

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The use of single quotation marks (quotes within quotes)

All quotes are placed in double quotation marks with one exception:

Binding Rule:

If a passage you are citing contains a quote, the quote within your quote is placed in single quotation marks.

Consider the following passage from the fourth chapter of Tanaka Masaaki's website What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. This is the original passage, as printed in the website, word for word, down to the punctuation:

No one saw "mountains of dead bodies" or "rivers of blood".

When quoting this passage, the quotes within the quote ("mountains of dead bodies" and "rivers of blood") are placed in single quotation marks:

According to Japanese scholar Tanaka Masaaki, "No one saw 'mountains of dead bodies' or 'rivers of blood'" (Masaaki Ch. 4).

The rule, again: when quoting a passage that contains a quote, the quote within the quote is placed in single quotation marks, as above; notice that the larger quote within which the quote-within-the-quote is embedded, is placed in double quotation marks, as ever.

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Block quotes (lengthy quotes)

Although we generally recommend using quotes strategically and (therefore) sparingly, there may be times when you need to quote lengthy passages to illustrate or prove your claims. Such lengthy quotes are formatted as block quotes.

What is a lengthy quote?

There is no absolute rule as to what constitutes a "lengthy quote" - some teachers say a quote is lengthy if it exceeds four or five typed lines; others, if it exceeds forty words or four sentences. The point is: once a quote becomes unusually lengthy it is formatted as a block quote.

Whatis a block quote; how is it formatted?

A block quote is a lengthy quote that is visually set off from the rest of your paper. It is single-spaced (rather than double-spaced, like the rest of your paper) and indented an additional half inch so that it visually draws attention to itself on the page. The objective is to signal to the reader, even from a distance, that what follows is a lengthy quote.

A block quote is not placed in quotation marks.

Example:

Chinese-American historian Iris Chang offers the following statistics in her effort to illustrate the full scope of the Nanking massacre:

One historian has estimated that if the dead from Nanking were to link hands they would stretch from Nanking to the city of Hangchow, spanning a distance of some two hundred miles. Their blood would weigh twelve hundred tons, and their bodies would fill twenty-five hundred railroad cars. Stacked on top of each other, they would reach the height of a seventy-four-story building. (Chang 5)

Note that, in MLA, as shown above,the final punctuation of a block quote - unlike the punctuation for a regular short quote - is placed immediately after the end of the last sentence, preceding (not following) the parenthetical reference.

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Modifying the wording of a quote without changing its meaning

Sometimes it is necessary to modify the wording of a quote in order to make it flow more smoothly, to add relevant information, to change its tense to suit the point you are trying to make, or to ensure that its transition in or out of your prose is grammatically correct.

As long as you do not alter the fundamental meaning of the original passage, it is permissible to make such grammatical and stylistic changes. To signal to the reader that your modifications are not part of the original passage quoted, such changes and additions are placed in square brackets.

Example:

Consider the following passage from Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking:

"Any attempt to set the record straight must shed light on how the Japanese, as a people, manage, nurture, and sustain their collective amnesia-even denial-when confronted with the record of their behavior through that period" (Chang 15).

Now consider the following quote from the above passage:

Writing in 1997, Iris Chang was undoubtedly correct that Japan's version of the Nanking Massacre exemplified "how the Japanese, as a people [once] manage[d], nurture[d], and sustain[ed] their collective amnesia-even denial-when confronted with the record of their behavior through [the] period [of World War II]." Today, more than ten years after the publication of Chang's work, those few Japanese scholars who still continue to deny the events that occurred at Nanking in 1937 are unlikely to ever come around to share her view (Chang 15).

Notice that the material added is placed in square brackets, visually indicating to the reader that it is not part of the original text.

Notice also that, although we have altered the tense of the quote (from present to past and through the addition of the word "once"), changed an article (from "that" to "the"), and added information (to specify the World War II period) we have not fundamentally altered the original meaning of the quote, which remains clearly discernible.

The rule, again: any modifications to a quote must be placed within square brackets. You can modify, as long as you do not change a quote's meaning. (On this, see also The Ethics of Quoting.)

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Ellipses

Another way in which you can modify a quote is by skipping material. Perhaps the quote is too long, or perhaps it contains unnecessarily detailed information: there are many reasons why you may wish to skip part of a quote, and as long as you do not alter the original meaning of the passage, you are free to do so.

The rule: Indicate that you have skipped material within a quote by placing three periods (an ellipsis) in place of the missing material. Do not place an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quote, ever: only to indicate skipped material in the middle of a quote.

Example:

Consider the following sentence from Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking:

"Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river (which had turned red with blood), ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains" (Chang 46).

If you wish to skip part of this quote (the parenthetical comment, for example) indicate its omission through the use of an ellipsis:

Writing of the Nanking massacre in 1937, Iris Chang describes "Corpses piled up outside the city walls, along the river ... [in] ponds and lakes, and on hills and mountains" (Chang 46).

Two important reminders:

  1. Remember that you can skip material in a quote only if your doing so does not change the meaning of the original passage (see The Ethics of Quoting on this); and
  2. Do not place ellipses at the beginning or end of quotes, ever: only in the middle, to indicate skipped material.
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Works Cited

  • Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.
  • Masaaki, Tanaka. "'Mountains of Bodies' that No One Saw." N.d. What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. July 1, 2007 <http://www.ne.jp/asahi/unko/tamezou/nankin/whatreally/index.html>.
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